Toy Museums Around the Globe
Exploring the world of action figure museums
Photo by M.J. Alexander
THE CLAIM: The Toy & Action Figure Museum of Pauls Valley is “The world’s only museum devoted solely to the art and collection of action figures … [it is] a fully accredited nonprofit, thus making it the only official museum of its kind in the world.
THE SOURCE: Atlas Obscura, atlasobscura.com
FACT CHECK: False
THE TRUTH: In its 12 years of operation, the Toy & Action Figure Museum has attracted plentiful accolades and more than 75,000 visitors. It is not, however, unique.
Founded in 2005 by artist Kevin Stark as part of Vision 2010 — a local initiative to attract visitors to Pauls Valley — the museum is located in a 6,000-square-foot building on South Chickasaw. Its shelves, display cases and dioramas feature more than 13,000 action figures, toys and memorabilia, from superhero-themed underwear to metal Batmobiles. It is also home to a kids’ activity area for play, a replica Bat Cave and the Oklahoma Cartoonists Hall of Fame, honoring artists from Pulitzer-winning Bill Mauldin to Dick Tracy creator Chester Gould.
However, several Asian museums also center around action figures, including two in the city of Mibu, Japan, 70 miles outside Tokyo. The area was a leader in toy production after World War II and is now home to the Omocha-no-Machi Bandai Museum and the Mibumachi Toy Museum. The latter opened April 23, 1995, as part of the Furusato Creation Project-envisioned, like the project in Pauls Valley, to reinvigorate local tourism.
In Bangladesh, collector Saadi Rahman founded the Dhaka Museum of Toys, which specializes in action figures and merchandise inspired by superheroes and TV and movie characters.
Closer to home, Caleb Zammit used the arrival of his 30th birthday to commit his personal action-figure collection of Star Wars, He-Man, Thundercats, Transformers and G.I. Joe characters as the basis for the Austin Toy Museum. Opened in 2016, the Texas nonprofit features thousands of action figures arrayed in elaborate dioramas under glass, and opportunities for visitors to play vintage video games.
In Elkhart, Indiana, the nonprofit Hall of Heroes Museum features a replica Bat Cave with a sliding firehouse pole, as well as more than 10,000 vintage action figures, toys, props and 60,000 comic books. Signature pieces include Adam West’s personal Batman costume and the original shield from the film Captain America: The First Avenger. Upping the ante, the museum is housed in a two-story replica of The Hall of Justice from “Super Friends,” all built in the backyard of curator Allen Stewart.
The museum with the most action figures is said to be the California-based Rancho Obi-Wan, hailed as the “Smithsonian of Star Wars.” The Guinness Book of World Records acknowledges its holdings as the largest collection of Star Wars memorabilia, with a total of more than 400,000 pieces. The nonprofit museum was founded by Steve Sansweet, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who was director of content management for Lucasfilm, and who has authored 16 books on Star Wars topics, including the first Star Wars Encyclopedia.